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California Halts Fracking Waste Injection Citing Danger to Aquifers

Jul 23, 2014

California has ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in the Central Valley and a review of more than 100 others for fear the companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers.

The state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources issued cease and desist orders on July 7 to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water. The waste water disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources,” ProPublica reports.

California’s agriculture industry is coping with a drought crisis that has forced farmers to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to the University of California Davis. Some aquifers had been exempted from the state’s environmental protections because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to be easily accessible. The oil and gas industry were allowed to intentionally pollute them, ProPublica says. But now fracking waste was being pumped into seven fresh water aquifers that were protected by the law, not the ones exempted by the state long ago.

A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. California officials told ProPublica that they will now order water testing and monitoring at the injection well sites in question. To date, they said, they have not yet found any of the more regulated aquifers to have been contaminated.

Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, told ProPublica that his office was acting “out of an abundance of caution.” The state became aware of the problems through a review of facilities under California’s fracking law passed late last year. The law required the state to study fracking impacts and adopt regulations to address its risks, presumably including underground disposal.

Experts say that aquifers once thought unnecessary may soon become important sources of water as technology reduces the cost of pumping it from deep underground and treating it for consumption, according to ProPublica.

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